Sunday, November 20, 2005

One of the reasons I never have regretted my decision to home-school my children is it pro-

vided me an enormous amount of freedom and the ability to integrate all aspects of my life.

Everyone with children in schools knows the degree to which life becomes dominated by the schedule, regulations and decisions of those in the school. The daily schedule, holidays, vacation and snow days, the half days and service days — these determine the parents’ marching orders. If siblings are attending several schools, it can become a monumental task to juggle who needs to be where, when.

Because most parents also work outside the home and the workplace has its own set of schedules and demands, it is small wonder that most families are overwhelmed with the stress of surviving.

Ironically, the parents often are working to pay for a house in an area where the schools are “good” so they can send their children to schools that will come to dominate their existence in ways ranging from the mildly helpful (as in teaching geometry) to massively harmful (endangering the child’s safety, moral sense or self-worth).

In home-schooling, the family reassumes the central position. The daily schedule, breaks, lunch menu and lesson content can be determined by the parents and children. If the family has an opportunity to do something interesting, or if there is an emergency, it all can be integrated into the studies.

There is a natural flow of information among family members in both academic learning and experiential learning. Not only do the children pick up information on the projects on which the parent may be working (from volunteer work to professional tasks) but the parent also can more easily learn from the children in terms of technology, computer applications and equipment.

Families that switch from institutional schooling to home-schooling always remark on how much more peaceful their lives have become. They also are amazed at how easily their children learn once the attention can be focused solely on the material and not on the trappings. Without the drama of the teacher’s personality and idiosyncrasies, the constant fear of being embarrassed by one’s lack of knowledge or poor performance, the arbitrary value put on speed or grades — most children find it is pretty easy to deal with math or science or history or languages.

Many people tell me, “I wish I could home-school, but I have to work.” It’s true that home-schooling requires having a parent at home, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other ways to bring income into the family. I know home-schoolers who work part time or who switch off between the two parents or supervise their older children remotely from the workplace.

Also, home-school families can avoid the cycle of working to support a mortgage for an expensive house in order to have access to “better” schools. We can live in the city, suburb or countryside and enjoy a wonderful schooling situation that is safe, has a high teacher-to-pupil ratio and has a totally flexible curriculum.

Family-based learning, in fact, teaches things with which no school can compete: one’s own family history and ancestral culture, the value system by which the parents live, and that family comes first. Children grow up understanding that they are connected to a network of caring individuals and that there are common values shared within that network. They experience their own family culture, which is the core prototype of every national or global cultural sphere. They learn that rules help guide the dynamics between people but that heart is even more important than the rules.

In an age when families are disintegrating all around us, when parents and children often seem to be at war, when husbands and wives seem to find the difficulties of marriage too overwhelming to endure — it seems to me that choosing an educational path that promotes the priorities of family relationships and individual value is a healthy decision.

The time we have with our children is finite, but the impact of the pattern we set up during that time will affect their entire lives. It’s universally recognized that healthy families produce the healthiest individuals. I really hope families can examine their options and choose to eliminate sources of unnecessary tension and emotional pollution in the educational arena as a way to develop warm, secure and loving lives together.

Kate Tsubata, a home-schooling mother of three, is a free-lance writer who lives in Maryland.

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